Trans-synaptic assemblies link synaptic vesicles and neuroreceptors

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science Advances  05 Mar 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 10, eabe6204
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe6204


Synaptic transmission is characterized by fast, tightly coupled processes and complex signaling pathways that require a precise protein organization, such as the previously reported nanodomain colocalization of pre- and postsynaptic proteins. Here, we used cryo–electron tomography to visualize synaptic complexes together with their native environment comprising interacting proteins and lipids on a 2- to 4-nm scale. Using template-free detection and classification, we showed that tripartite trans-synaptic assemblies (subcolumns) link synaptic vesicles to postsynaptic receptors and established that a particular displacement between directly interacting complexes characterizes subcolumns. Furthermore, we obtained de novo average structures of ionotropic glutamate receptors in their physiological composition, embedded in plasma membrane. These data support the hypothesis that synaptic function is carried by precisely organized trans-synaptic units. It provides a framework for further exploration of synaptic and other large molecular assemblies that link different cells or cellular regions and may require weak or transient interactions to exert their function.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science Advances